Last Exit: Space is a brand new documentary on Discovery+ that goes out on a multi-layered exploration of space colonization. The film is written and directed by documentary filmmaker Rudolph Herzog and executive produced and narrated by his father, internationally renowned auteur Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Fitzcarraldo).
~ by Dora Endre ~
“From time immemorial, we humans have looked up at the night sky, marvelling at billions of tiny specks. Settling on distant planets was once the domain of poets and dreamers. But with every leap in technology, we come closer to realizing their dreams.”
– the narration starts off. Last Exit: Space is nothing you would expect and that is what makes it unmissable. It is beautiful, poetic, cynical and, in parts, hilarious with a capital H.
Rudolph focuses on how humans might travel, land, and establish space colonies on Mars or an exoplanet in the Alpha Centauri system. He follows a firm, step-by-step structure throughout the movie, he goes from the exploration of one challenge to the other. This spans from traveling through solar storms to deadly radiation people would need to endure on the surface of Mars. The younger Herzog does not miss the chance to examine the methods and plans Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos developed – or claimed to have developed – in their fierce competition to establish the first corporate, outer space settlement.
Exploring Exoplanets and Settling on Mars
The 80-minute film was produced by Gunpowder & Sky, Spring Films and Taglicht Media and takes a close look at how billionaire entrepreneurs race for realizing shape-settlement. It is critical and bold yet sticks with an objective approach of observation. Here the core question is, are we the interstellar species that will spread across the cosmos or is our ambitious conquest doomed to fail?
“Son and father Herzog take us on an odd and wonderful journey into space and living beyond Earth as they look to answer the big question: How close are we to fulfilling our dream of becoming space colonists? Over 7 billion humans walk this earth. Our resources are dwindling. Since time immemorial, we have looked up into the night sky wondering what’s out there in the vast distance of space. There are over 100 billion planets in the Milky way alone. Could one of them be our future home?”
– reads the official synopsis for the Discovery+ documentary. Last Exit: Space is an intriguing and thought-provoking piece with a poetic story arch. Crafted and executed sublimely, the central questions about space colonization are, first, approached from a deeply scientific angle, which slowly morphs into a multi-layered exploration. What other perspectives are vital to be analyzed while calculating with possibilities? Herzog touches on anthropology, space sexuality and psychology, just to mention a few. Eventually, the film turns spiritual, warm and soothing. It concludes by going back to our common roots, to the soul of our mysterious and beautiful planet. After extracting one place, is it morally acceptable for us to move to the next one?
The new documentary is an odd, bold take on space colonization that gets you hooked within the first few minutes. The number of challenges our species will need to face, if it wants to settle on another planet, is almost uncountable. From getting enough fuel from antimatter through issues with hibernation, dangers of space flight privatization, matters of suspended animation, lengthy traveling time on generation ships to mental health concerns. The film takes a close look at the work of experts highly dedicated to discovering and colonizing faraway planets. A neurobiologist opens up about the 500-year-long plan (!) he and his colleagues are putting down the foundation to. Last Exist: Space is anchored by interviews with futurists, ex-astronauts, researchers, physicists, planet hunters, biologists, space sexologists, geneticists and even some self-claimed descendants of UFOs from another planet called, CAPELLA. Can aliens just give us a ride? No doubt, it would save us from lots of troubles.
“I wanted to find the craziest things out there because I’m doing this together with my dad,”
– Rudolph says.
“He has seen so much stuff, but I just wanted to see that he’s going to have a good time on the trip and that we’re going to surprise him—like, around every corner, there’s something even more surprising, so he’d be really impressed. It’s obvious: sons want to impress their dads, right? That was a very hedonist approach.”
“You would be faster off walking to get there”
Werner Herzog’s Bavarian accent makes the movie hilarious.
“The reality of a life on Mars would be sobering,”
– he says.
“A crew of hardy astronauts would hunker down in radiation-proof bunkers enjoying drinks of recycled urine.”
If the way he says this, does not make you roll on the floor, nothing will. Even though the documentary takes on a difficult, and occasionally harrowing subject, it never ceases to “look on the bright side of life” and be gently critical of us as a species.
“[As a narrator], I always poke in a deadpan [voice] and of course there’s a certain humor in it because listening to my accent is a joke already“
– Werner told Ars Technica about his approach to the project.
“I knew when I speak about [drinking] your own urine, if I say it deadpan, it becomes hilarious.”
He continues by talking about his familiarity with an ecosystem of comedians and YouTube creators that mock his voice, acknowledging that he understands the comedy of it.
“I made a film in Antarctica once, and before I even started editing, there was already a satire out—about a film I hadn’t really started yet!”
– he says.
Immediate Dangers of Landing and of Private Space Programs
Mike Foale, NASA astronaut who has spent more than a year away from our home planet talks about the price you have to pay if joining a mission like that. Foale was one of the lucky ones. He managed to survive one of the worst accidents in space history, a disastrous collusion that happened on the Russian space station. The ex-astronaut also goes into details regarding the many hazards that new settlers on Mars would need to face. These include the huge variation of temperature (approximately 400 Fahrenheit degrees) and getting sunburned to death in 30 seconds without proper ultraviolet radiation. Radiation is more than 12 times of that on Earth not counting that of solar storms. Foale claims, out there “you’re on a knife’s edge” at all times. Last Exit: Space paints a realistic and gut-wrenching picture of another-planetary future.
Another important angle Rudolph looks at is of the private space programs high-profile business men such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk run. However, he does not waste any time inserting clips of their famous speeches about multi-planetary life and vast space cities. The filmmaker is aware, at this point, we know all those catch phrases by heart. With the help of anthropologists, Herzog chooses to focus on the dangers space corporations could mean to us. Would they aim to exploit one planet after the other? Would they thrive to control and maintain their corporate executives’ vision of what space needs to be at all cost? Would the implications of commercial settlements turn free markets into one, gigantic feudal slavery system? One expert claims the owners of private corporations, in sole control of their settlement, could easily restrict water and food shipments, withhold electricity and use other, similar restrictive tactics to what is being used in today’s Amazon fulfilment centres.
Earth = Paradise
Last Exit: Space is beautifully shot, meticulously crafted and equipped with dry wit and soothing wisdom. The film depicts the beauty that our planet holds from the thirsty deserts of Jerusalem, through the never-ending rivers of Colorado to the peaceful suburbs of Denmark.
After a lengthy exploration on whether conquering other habitable planets is realistic or not, it eventually provides us with a clear conclusion. No spoilers here, watch the film. Son and father Herzog might come to their own conclusions but never turn judgemental, there is some truth to everything, they say. We, as viewers, are stimulated to form our own opinions. Last Exit: Space is loads of fun, sometimes cynical and purposefully silly but never not charming and heartfelt. It makes you fall in love with the many wonders of our planet again. Why would you ever want to move to anywhere else within or beyond our solar system? Why not protect our home instead?
Last Exit: Space is now streaming exclusively on Discovery+.